How to recognize golf potential in your child

By Frank Mantua, PGA
Published on
How to recognize golf potential in your child

One of the greatest things about golf is that you can play the game your whole life. Being able to start the game at a young age can be a big advantage.

How many times have you heard adults say, “I wish I would have started at his age”.

Learning the game of golf at a young age is obviously a good thing and learning to play good golf at a young age is even better. The question for many parents is whether their child is just an average player or do they have some potential within the sport. With other sports, such as soccer or baseball, spotting a good player is easy. With golf is can be a bit tougher, especially if the parents aren’t golfers themselves.

The first thing to remember even before we talk about a child’s potential is encouragement. Remember that the best form of motivation is encouragement. All juniors start golfing because someone encourages them to play the game. It may be a parent, friend or coach. This encouragement, along with access to clubs and a course, is the key. So, remember to encourage your junior throughout their career. Do your best to keep it positive and not add any additional pressure on the junior golfer with your unreal expectations.

When looking for potential in junior golfers, you must remember that each junior is going to grow and learn at different rates. From age 5 to 13, much of the junior’s ability to score is controlled by how big they are. A lot of times junior golfers don’t score as well simply because they can’t hit the ball as far as other kids their age. Many times, it’s just because they’re physically smaller.

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So, when you’re looking for your kid’s potential at a young age, don’t just look at their scores. Watch how they play the game, see how they chip and putt, and look at their shot selection. A short hitting junior may have a pretty good short game. They realize they can’t hit as far as the rest of the players their age, but they have also figured out that they can make up for it by chipping and putting well. Many juniors understand the game instantly, while most kids are just trying to hit the ball as far as they can. That is a sign of real potential.

Potential can also be seen in the way they approach the game. Here are a few examples:

Is it their idea to go to the course?
Do they have an interest in their set of clubs and how they work? Do they like to practice?
Do they work hard?
Do they practice golf, even away from the course?
Do they listen to coaches and have a good attitude?
Do they talk about golf, even when they are not on course? Do they want to go back after a bad round?

Some juniors, even at an early age, are very serious about the game. It’s not something a parent or instructor can instill in the child, it’s just there.

As a junior golfer gets older, tournaments become more important. Whether is the junior championship at your club or an AJGA tournament. This is where it’s real important for parents to encourage and not push. Ultimately, it must be the junior’s decision to play and not the parents.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about the parents that push too hard and the kid puts their clubs in the closet never to play again. Even with that said, one of the only ways to see how much potential a player has is to play against his or her peers. Try to get them to play in as many events as possible if that’s what they want to do. Remember, being nervous is normal, dreading going to the tournament is not.

Potential to be a good golfer begins to show at these small events. If the junior does well and likes it, the potential is there. Many good golfers are not tournament players. The stress of competition is not for everyone. We see that at every level. With some success at these small events, the next step is a bigger tournament. Your city or county is likely to have a junior event where your junior can play against the better kids in the area. US Kids Golf has local tours in most regions of the country. It’s a good place to see if this is something that your junior likes and wants to continue doing.

With success in these regional tournaments, you probably have a good player on your hands. If they can finish top 10 in one of these events, they can probably play well at the high school level. One thing to remember is that finishing in the top 10 in a golf event in Bangor, Maine with 20 players is probably different than the same finish in Jupiter, Florida in an event with 100 kids. Try to be realistic about how much talent was at the event.

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The next step is high school golf. If your junior is the number 1 player on his/her high school team, they may be able play in college. For the boys, if they have a tournament scoring average that is par or better, many schools will find them. If they have a tournament scoring average in the high 70’s, they will have to find the school, but there is still a place to play. On the girl’s side, it’s a bit different. There are less girls playing golf and more scholarship money offered at bigger schools. So, if your daughter can shoot in the 70’s, there is definitely a place for her play if she’d like to continue after high school. Even a female player that can shoot in the 80’s will have some options.

For the better high school players, the summer is the most important time for their tournament schedules. There are many national junior golf tournament associations that hold events each year. This is where the best players in your state will be trying to play against the best competition.
Here is a list of regional and national golf associations that college coaches consider strong tournaments:

PGA of America Sections (
US Kids Golf (
State Golf Associations
Regional Golf Associations’ Junior Championships City Championships
High School Tournaments & State Championships Local Country Club Inter Club Matches

United States Golf Association (
American Junior Golf Association (
PGA Junior Championship (
Hurricane Junior Golf Tour (
Future Collegians World Tour (
International Junior Golf Tour (
Southeastern Junior Golf Tour (
United States Junior Golf Tour (

There is also a good website that lists many of the local and regional junior events in each state:

The following guide is simply to help parents and juniors determine what level of play each player is ready for:

Level 1 – Local Level
Tournament 18 Hole Scoring Average Boys – 100 & below; Girls – 115 & below

Types of tournaments
Local Golf Course &
County Club’s
City and County Associations

Level 2 – State and Regional
Tournament 18 Hole Scoring Average Boys – 89 & below; Girls – 95 &below

Types of Tournaments
State Golf Associations PGA Sections
High School Championships

Level 3 – National Events
Tournament 18 Hole Scoring Average Boys – 78 & below; Girls – 84 & below

Types of Tournaments
USGA Junior Events
National Events such as AJGA

Article Prepared by Frank Mantua, PGA - US Golf Camps - The Ultimate Junior Golf Camp Experience